The highly acclaimed Angel of the North has brought metal sculpture to a national audience. Sarah Foster speaks to a local artist who aspires to be the next Antony Gormley.

AT the tender age of 23, Peter Collinson is living his dream. He set up MetArt, a business specialising in metal sculpture, just over a year ago, and is rapidly gaining a reputation for his quirky pieces for the home, garden and office. But as opportunities often do, his chance to indulge his passion came disguised as a setback.

"Basically, the business came about after I left Sunderland University," he says. "I failed the final year of my Fine Art course because I couldn't do the written side. They discovered I was dyslexic, and said I had to re-sit the year, but I couldn't afford to, so I left."

With no degree, Peter, who is single, and lives in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, reasoned that his chances of being offered employment with a company were pretty slim. So, despite also having no money, he took the plunge and decided to start out on his own. He says he was eager to make metal sculpting his occupation as he had been particularly drawn to it as a student.

"At university, I was a painter, but I also did a lot of metal work," he says. "I really fancied doing it, and I thought there was room out there for something different. I did market research and found that I was right."

Through his local Jobcentre, Peter became involved with New Deal, a Government scheme to help unemployed people into work, which referred him to the business support service Inbiz. The service put him through a course in Newcastle and taught him the basics of starting a company. Armed with this knowledge, he applied to The Prince's Trust for funding, and was given a grant of £2,500.

After a bit of groundwork marketing his ideas, he moved into his workshop at the Stansfield Business Centre, in Sunderland, in February last year. The sculptor now spends many hours a week there creating unusual artworks of all shapes and sizes.

He says inspiration can come to him at any time. "I'm inspired by architecture and all sorts of other things," says Peter. "I can see things in scrap yards and think, 'That would make something'. Once, I was stirring a cup of coffee and saw a face on the back of the spoon, which I made a sculpture from."

Many of Peter's pieces feature people and animals, and some are more abstract than others. Several betray a sense of humour, such as a bow-legged woman with a Polo mint-shaped head and coiled body entitled Femme Fatale, while others pay homage to serious art, like the 6ft Picasso wall hanging. Among the best sellers are a menagerie of chunky metal animals which cost around £25 each and are designed to cheer up gardens and porches.

"Gardens are the new rock and roll," says Peter. "They are like an extra room in someone's home and everyone wants a focal point. Once people have bought items from me they tend to want something else. I've got a lot of customers who come back."

The sculptor has already established himself at the Dales Centre, in Stanhope, where his work is on permanent display, and also has items on sale at the Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and The Chancery, in Morpeth. He plans to run a stall at this summer's Gateshead Flower Festival and is happy to take commissions, welcoming ideas from individuals and businesses on how they feel their homes and workplaces could be enhanced.

But while many would be satisfied to have achieved his level of success, Peter makes it clear he has higher aspirations.

"I am about to start work on a metal shelter with kids in Pelton, after they asked me to get involved," he says. "I really want to go into nightclubs and do bigger sculptures. I would love to be like Antony Gormley - I like the Angel of the North but I think more art in the North-East should be done by North-East artists. I would love to do just one piece of public art."

And after all the obstacles he's already overcome, there's no reason Peter's dream of rivalling the Angel shouldn't develop wings some day soon.

* For more information on MetArt, ring Peter on 0191-388 1427 or 07890 464649, or log onto